3. Try Set-It-and-Forget-It Backup
Let's be blunt: Sometimes, deciding on what to back up, and where, makes the process overwhelming. And though acknowledging that fact doesn't negate the need for steps one and two described on the previous page, occasionally you want everything you own to be saved, with no brain activity required to get the process going.
A handful of devices make jump-starting your system backups dead simple. Among the most notable faces in the crowd is the Clickfree Portable Backup Storage Appliance, which makes backup supereasy. Connect this $180, 320GB USB drive (also available in 120GB and 250GB capacities, with up to 500GB coming sometime in 2009) to your Windows-based PC, and it will back up your data files, including your music, movies, pictures, and e-mail. The drive's built-in backup software kicks in as soon as you attach the drive to your PC; the software supports up to 350 file types. You can configure some basics, or just let the drive do everything--your choice. The drive can safeguard up to 20 PCs, and it does its backups incrementally (meaning that it does a full backup the first time, and then on subsequent occasions finds the new files and backs those up). Restoration is simply a matter of pressing the Restore button; the drive's built-in software will then return data to its original location.
If you have only enough data to fill a DVD or three, Clickfree sells DVD discs with the same backup software loaded. And the HP SimpleSave Photo utility uses an HP-branded version of the software for its discs.
Rebit Disk Drive Backup is even simpler to use. Just plug in the drive (available in capacities up to 500GB for $220), give the built-in software permission to back up, and off it goes, continually protecting you in the background. By the end of January, the drive's software will get an update that supports managing backups for up to six PCs to a single drive (a good setup for people backing up smaller sets of data, but not for users who have multiple PCs packed with multimedia collections). The company also now offers its easy-to-use software on CD, for use with any external hard drive; the CD costs $50 at its Web site.
Memeo's Autobackup software and NTI's Shadow are competing stand-alone applications that you can buy for real-time file backup; they can require more intervention on your part, however, than either Clickfree (which is not real-time backup) or Rebit (which is real-time, much like the Apple Time Capsule for Mac OS computers).
4. Use a Flash Drive
USB flash drives are ubiquitous, but nowadays 4GB is a baseline capacity, not the high end. And larger capacities--16GB, 32GB, and greater--are becoming more commonplace.
The benefits to using a flash drive can be multifold. You can store your files--perhaps both your critical documents and your multimedia files--on a drive the size of your index finger, and you can keep your data close to you, in your pocket or on a keychain. Many drives offer software encryption and password protection; still more include a file-synchronization utility. The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium Plus goes one step further by letting you sync the drive with Web-based storage.
SanDisk is going all out, however, with its newest offering (announced this week at CES), the SanDisk UltraBackup USB Flash Drive. The drive is expected in April, in capacities of 8GB to 64GB ($40 to $200). It has a retractable USB connector that slides inside, so you needn't worry about caps (or cables, as you would with an external hard drive). The integrated software requires no installation; instead, it just asks you for the file types you want to back up, and it initiates a backup when you plug the drive in; a button on the unit lets you launch a backup, too.
5. Send Data to an Online Backup Service
Online backup makes sense in some circumstances but not others. Certainly, Web-based services (such as the Webroot Secure Backup service) provide off-site redundant storage that can keep your data safe against natural and unexpected disasters (such as flooding, earthquakes, or fire). But online backup may not be appropriate if your data measures into the tens of gigabytes, or even terabytes (yes, snap-happy digital photographers and devoted music gurus, I'm looking at you). Content creators with high-capacity needs may prefer to keep their files on NAS drives and hard drives locally (or on drives located at secondary sites) rather than deal with the ongoing fees of Web-based backup.
That said, many sites offer some free online backup, as much as 2GB (Mozy.com and Fabrik.com, for example). Two gigs can go a long way for basic Word and Excel documents, PDF files, and PowerPoint presentations (the ones light on multimedia, at least). For your files currently in play, online backup can be both convenient (get it anywhere you find a Wi-Fi connection), and economical.
It's all about strategy--and what type of data you need to protect. Feel free to comment below, or visit the PC World Forums, to tell us about your approach to backing up.